Brittany Maynard’s mother, Debbie Ziegler, is defending her daughter’s decision to end her life in response to a Vatican official who called terminally ill Maynard’s choice “an absurdity” and “reprehensible” just three days after she died.
“My 29-year-old daughter’s choice to die gently rather than suffer physical and emotional degradation and intense pain does not deserve to be labeled as ‘reprehensible’ by strangers a continent away who do not know her or the particulars of her situation,” Ziegler wrote in a letter released Tuesday by Compassion & Choices.
On Nov. 1, Maynard, 29, who had moved to Oregon with her family to have access to the state’s Death with Dignity Act, ended her own life with a fatal dose of barbiturates prescribed by a doctor, something terminally ill people meeting specific criteria can do legally in Oregon.
Before she died, Maynard launched an online video campaign with Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy organization, to fight for death with dignity laws nationwide.
She released two videos, the second of which came out just two days before she died. Compassion & Choices will release a third video from her issuing a “call to action” Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, commented on Maynard’s death, telling the ANSA news agency that “dignity is something other than ending one’s own life.”
Ziegler’s letter is the first time anyone from her family has commented since her death.
” ‘Reprehensible’ is a word I’ve used as a teacher to describe the actions of Hitler, other political tyrants and the exploitation of children by pedophiles,” wrote Ziegler, 56, a former eighth-grade science teacher.
“As Brittany Maynard’s mother, I find it difficult to believe that anyone who knew her would ever select this word to describe her actions,” she wrote.
“Brittany was a giver. She was a volunteer. She was a teacher,” she wrote. “She was an advocate. She worked at making the world a better place to live.”
She also chastised the Vatican official for making the comments so soon after her daughter’s death.
“This word was used publicly at a time when my family was tender and freshly wounded. Grieving,” she wrote.
“Such strong public criticism from people we do not know, have never met, is more than a slap in the face,” she wrote. “It is like kicking us as we struggle to draw a breath.”
In an interview with PEOPLE on Oct. 11, Ziegler said she struggled with her daughter’s decision at first.
“I was avoiding that topic,” she said. “I would cry if she brought it up. And finally she said, ‘Mom. You have to talk to me about dying because I’m dying and you need to talk to me about it’. And I told my husband, ‘She’s right.’ ”
Ziegler later told her daughter she would campaign to get death with dignity laws passed nationwide after her death.
In her letter, she reiterated her support for the cause.
“I urge Americans to think for themselves,” she wrote. “Make your wishes clear while you are competent … Misguided doctors caught in an aspirational belief that they must extend life, whatever the cost, cause individuals and families unnecessary suffering.”
“It’s why Brittany started her campaign in the first place,” she said.
“Brittany stood up to bullies,” she wrote. “She never thought anyone else had the right to tell her how long she should suffer. The right to die for the terminally ill is a human rights issue. Plain and simple.”
PEOPLE Writer Nicole Weisensee Egan Reveals the Very Private Side of Brittany Maynard
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